A Forum for Opinions on News, Politics, and Life
May 4th, 2011
By Tom Carter
Lots of Americans are happily shouting, “We got Osama bin Laden!” When I first heard it, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “What do you mean, ‘we’?” The fact is, the U.S. military and intelligence officers got him, under the leadership of their chains of command, including the Secretary of Defense, the Director of the CIA, and the President. That’s who “we” is.
I understand what people mean when we say “we.” It’s the same as cheering a victory by their favorite sports team, taking credit as fans for the hard-fought accomplishments of the team. That’s fine, I suppose. But some of those who are cheering the successful operation to find and kill bin Laden are the same people who normally feel nothing but disdain for the military, think volunteering to serve is for fools with no other options, and ridicule the intelligence community as a gang that can’t shoot straight.
The fact that their views are based on ignorance and political bias isn’t the point. The point is, they should at least be consistent and not take credit for something done by brave, skilled people for whom they normally feel little more than disgust.
These thoughts, uncharitable though they may be, were in my mind when I read an article posted on the At War blog of the New York Times. It was written by Rebekah Sanderlin, an Army wife and mother who has lived through her husband’s multiple combat deployments. As is so often the case, great strains on their marriage finally resulted in filing for divorce, but they managed to reconcile.
Ms. Sanderlin’s thoughts are well worth reading and thinking about. A large majority of military personnel are married and have families, but that fact is often forgotten or ignored by the public. They suffer stress and deprivation, including daily fear for their loved ones, throughout combat deployments. These days, with our military — especially the Army and Marine Corps — stretched so thin, the deployments come fast and frequently.
She ended the article with these words, which pretty accurately reflect my views:
…together, my husband and I stayed up to watch the breaking news about the death of Osama bin Laden on television. We were just as excited as everyone else, perhaps even more so. For us Bin Laden’s death was more than a national victory — it was a personal triumph, the taking back of years of our lives and vindication for all the friends we’ve lost.
But watching the spontaneous celebrations outside the White House and ground zero, we were struck by the paradox inherent in the cheering crowds. People, mostly in their 20s and 30s — the same age as our friends who have died and been forever injured — were cheering, “We got him!”
For nearly a decade of war, it hasn’t felt much like “we.” During this, the longest war in our nation’s history, a war fought by less than 1 percent of the population, the rest of the country has seemed mostly to ignore those of us in the military community, tuning in only for our scandals or deaths. And so “we,” in the context of victory, most accurately applies only to the very small number of men and women who have given more than any of us had a right to ask.
The show of patriotism right now is touching and inspiring and reminiscent of the unity felt by all in the days after Sept. 11, 2001. This truly is a time of national celebration. An evil man who tried to engineer our demise and who caused untold grief for so many is dead, and we should all celebrate that victory. But this war is far from over, and tough days are still ahead. It is incumbent on we, as a nation, to share in the burden as well.
Ms. Sanderlin is right — we, as a nation, are obligated to share the burden that so few of our citizens bear in prosecuting the War on Terror. It would interesting to take a poll of all those who were cheering and shouting “We got him!” What percentage are willing to volunteer for military service, hoping they can meet the standards? What percentage are willing to pay higher taxes to fund the wars in progress, to forego certain government-funded benefits, to consume fewer critical resources? The answer, I’m sure, is very few.
But what the hell. I guess this is the best we can expect from a fat, coddled, over-privileged society that takes everything for granted, including the rare privilege of being Americans. At least they’re cheering for soldiers once in a rare while, as opposed to the treatment combat veterans received from many people when we returned from Vietnam. Something is better than nothing, I suppose.
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